Writing Reviews

I sat at my desk with the review clutched in my hand. I had applied for an advanced writing class. Their response was something a little unexpected.


My first professional review on my writing went a little something like this:

This applicant’s letter and sample chapters show she has raw storytelling skills, as well as motivation and enthusiasm. But the chapters also show that she needs training in fiction basics to be able to let her stories emerge from the amateur writing habits that constrain them.
Her prologue lacks a strong hook, and the prose is written in a passive, redundant, pretentious style that eschews simplicity. The omniscient point of view distances readers emotionally from the story. The slow pacing of the opening pages defeats the author’s goal of building suspense. A key action-the assassination-is almost lost amid all the reflection and contemplation that surrounds the deed. With training and practice these issues can be overcome. Feb 5, 2010

Ouch! I’m a redundant, pretentious, spewer of simplicity. Note to the wise, they’re critiquing your work not you as a person. There is a difference. I sat at the desk for a while and thought about my options. I could quit writing because maybe I wasn’t cut out for it after all (I was stuck on this one for a while) or I could pull myself up by my bootstraps and start studying the one thing I’d always wanted to do.

Two years later… Note that this review was written by the same people as the first:

The sample of her writing shows ability that can be sharpened even more by a good mentor. She is dedicated to the work, is disciplined as a writer and has had some experience with publications. In the sample she sent, her plot moves well, action carries the reader along and dialogue is used well to show the thoughts and feelings of the characters without a lot of narrative intervention.
There are a few minor problems that any writer might have. In one sentence she mixes singular and plural. Some words need to be hyphenated. The words “men that” would be better written as “men who.” Animals and things are usually referred to as “that” but human beings are referred to as “who.”
This applicant is gifted as a fiction writer, far above many others I’ve seen. Jan19, 2012

Have you ever received a bad review? Have you ever wondered if you were cut out for the writing life after all?

There are three things you should do before tossing that review aside.

1.) Pray. Ask the Lord for guidance.

2.) Grow a thick skin. This has helped me so much. I’m not saying the person reviewing your work is always right but chances are they know what they’re talking about. After two years, I read what I’d first submitted and realized they were spot on! 🙂

3.) Get to work. Don’t stop writing. Study the craft and find a good editor. Keep submitting your work.

Writing isn’t easy but I know it’s what I’ve been called to do. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been called too. Don’t give up!





About Brittany Valentine

Saved by grace, sibling one of eight, part-timer by day, speculative fiction writer by night. Working on a series called The Chronicles of Aura.

8 comments on “Writing Reviews

  1. I’m glad you got over the initial sting of that first review. And yes, you’ve grown since then, of course, but you’ve also grown since the second review. I think your advice to grow a thick skin is good; but, a lot of professional writers also say disregard reviews. Reviews represent opinion, irrespective of who gives them. They’re only one person’s opinion.

    I’ve got a lot to say about “editors” (which is hardly EVER defined clearly, and there are MANY types), but that’s for my own blog, not yours. 🙂

    Have you ever posted a sample of your work here, the way Avily does sometimes? I’d love to read some of your writing. Maybe you could start a NAF-only short story type of thing? Or do you have samples online somewhere else I can read?

    Just curious.

    • Writing is definitely a field where you’re always growing!
      I’ve been really blessed with editors who have had a good balance of instructive and encouraging feedback.
      I do have a novella on amazon. It’s called Abigail’s Answer and was published as a part of a series by Helping Hands Press. It’s not in my normal genre but a friend of mine was working on the series and asked if I would be a part of it.
      I might try a short story sometime in the future.

  2. Ouch. As a professional editor, I’m moved by what Dane wrote, because I know some of my colleagues give the profession a bad name. I often think about whether I’m overstepping my bounds.

    That said, the kind of professional review Brittany is talking about needs to be taken more seriously than an amateur review from a beta reader or Amazon reviewer.

    I have received this kind of review myself, and it stung. My manuscript was described as “brilliant” but “bloated.”The editor was brutally honest about which parts were boring and needed to come out. He also pointed out the places where I had cheated the reader by not going into enough detail, especially in the fight scenes. Getting that professional review was the best money I ever spent on my writing. My manuscript is far better than it used to be, and half the length.

    • It might sting sometimes but I’ve probably learned more from getting my work reviewed than from anything else.
      I’ve done some editing for writer friends before and I always worry about the “Overstepping” thing too!

  3. Yikes! That first review hit me like a punch to the gut. So glad you kept going!

    I’ve gotten similar feedback, and after being weepy and questioning my dreams for a day or two, I was able to get back in the saddle. I totally agree about keeping writing. Though some of my negative reviews were somewhat tactlessly given, they are what helped my writing the most. I had to learn to look through rudeness and see the truth behind it. (Granted, I wasn’t using a professional editor, whom I hope would be more professional…)

    • Absolutely.
      And I think receiving harsh reviews has made me a little more compassionate when I review work for other people. 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing your journey, Brittany. I love seeing the contrast between the two reviews and hearing the wisdom you’ve gleaned pouring out to encourage others!

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